Do people commit theft when they share unauthorized copies of film and music over the Internet? U.S. Vice President Joe Biden thinks so.
"We used to have a problem in this town saying this," Biden told reporters Thursday at a press conference in Washington, D.C. "But piracy is theft. Clean and simple. It's smash and grab. It ain't no different than smashing a window at Tiffany's and grabbing [merchandise]."
Biden spoke to the media alongside Victoria Espinel, the U.S. intellectual property enforcement coordinator, to introduce the government's strategy on protecting the country's intellectual property.
Espinel issued a report that included more than 33 recommendations, such as cooperating with foreign governments to go after foreign-based pirate sites. Biden and Espinel were scheduled to discuss how to implement the recommendations following the press conference. Through reporters, Espinel issued a warning to those who infringe on U.S. intellectual-property rights.
"We have committed to putting you out of business," she said, adding that copyright owners who are losing money to piracy can rest assure "help is on the way."
Biden and Espinel's comments were welcomed by the large Hollywood studios and recording companies. The entertainment industry has said for years that digital piracy, thanks mostly to the rise of the Internet, is costing them billions of dollars and thousands of jobs every year. Plenty of skeptics have debated the costs of piracy on the entertainment sector but the Obama administration has appeared very sympathetic to IP protection.
"The big picture is that the sands are shifting," said Rick Cotton, NBC Universal's general counsel. "An important political consensus is emerging."
Said Philippe Dauman, CEO of Viacom, parent company of Paramount Pictures and MTV: "For the first time our government is bringing to bear its full powers to the critical mission of protecting intellectual property."
In Espinel's report, called the Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement, she recommends ways to protect industries that go far beyond the entertainment industries and content creators. Espinel and Biden said that billions of dollars worth of phony goods are entering the U.S. every year and hurt much more than the nation's economy. Biden said manufacturers of tires, airplane parts, pharmaceutical products, and even Kevlar vests are plagued by counterfeiters.
Biden said that when counterfeit drugs or wheel assemblies for jet aircraft are bought by unwitting Americans, these phony products can prove fatal.
"This is not just about the new 'Robin Hood' movie," Biden said. "It's not just about creative talent...It's about whether a Kevlar [bulletproof] vest we are putting on some guy and whether it works or not."
But Biden and Espinel spent time discussing online piracy and illegal file sharing. Biden suggested that Internet service providers should hop aboard the antipiracy efforts of the film and music sectors. For nearly two years, Hollywood and the major labels have tried to get companies such as AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable to create policies that penalize chronic copyright offenders.
The vice president also said that the U.S. government is going to step up pressure on foreign governments where pirate Web sites operate.
"We want to make sure that these countries know we want these sites shut down," Biden said. "We are going to shine a light. If these sites are operating openly in a country that is not taking action...we can make it very public and shine a light on rogue actors. It's the government's responsibility to respond."